Why We Need Librarians in the 21st Century…11.30.08

30 11 2008

Outgoing SLA president Stehpen Abram’s Dec. 2008 article in Information Outlook “Access is Not Equal to Know How” [http://www.sirsidynix.com/Resources/Pdfs/Company/Abram/IOColumn_78.pdf] is a good read.  Here is the beginning:

“We’re still hearing that hackneyed old comment, ‘Most everything’s available on the web now, so exactly why do we need librarians?‘ It’s coming from all quarters and other professionals too. In financially tumultuous times, when every sous is being scrutinized to within a centimeter of its life, we can expect this ugly example of shallow thinking to raise its head again. So, it’s time for reminding ourselves of quick ways to respond to these comments. Make no mistake. It’s not an option to leave these challenges unaddressed, whether they’re explicitly spoken or just lay their as underlying assumption to conversations. If we don’t respond we put our organizations at risk. We have a professional duty to educate and inform our world about the role of librarians and information professionals. So, here’s a modest attempt to develop a few strategies for talking to key folks in our world who may try to hurt our organizations and society at large because they haven’t thought through the real world issues of a web that:

• Contains too much information;

• Has no clear bias toward quality or authority;

• Is subject to manipulation by third parties through search engine optimization;

• Offers potentially different answers depending on your geo-location, personal profile or stored previous search behaviours;

• Is primarily focused on meeting those needs of its primary customers – advertisers – which may include your competitors;

• And, is available to everyone which means that you have absolutely no competitive advantage.

So, what kind of story can we tell that gets our point across in the context of those folks who would seek to cut our staff, cut our budgets or eliminate our roles entirely?…”


“The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind” Sounds Like a Good Read on Copyright…11.30.08

30 11 2008

He is a book review by Cory Doctorow [http://www.boingboing.net/2008/11/30/james-boyles-the-pub.html] on BoingBoing that made me want to place it on my reading list although copyright/copyfight has not been a major point of interest with me:

“Jamie Boyle, of the Duke Center for the Public Domain, has a new book out, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. Boyle ranks with Lessig, Benkler and Zittrain as one of the most articulate, thoughtful, funny and passionate thinkers in the global fight for free speech, open access, and a humane and sane policy on patents, trademarks and copyrights. A legal scholar who can do schtick like a stand-up comedian, Boyle is entertaining as well as informative.

I’ve got a copy on its way to me, but while I’m waiting, I’m delighted to discover that Jamie talked his publisher, Yale University Press, into offering the book as a free, CC-licensed download. And right there, in the preface, I’m hooked:

Each person has a different breaking point. For one of my students it was United States Patent number 6,004,596 for a “Sealed Crustless Sandwich.” In the curiously mangled form of English that patent law produces, it was described this way:A sealed crustless sandwich for providing a convenient sandwich without an outer crust which can be stored for long periods of time without a central filling from leaking outwardly. The sandwich includes a lower bread portion, an upper bread portion, an upper filling and a lower filling between the lower and upper bread portions, a center filling sealed be- tween the upper and lower fillings, and a crimped edge along an outer perimeter of the bread portions for sealing the fillings there between. The upper and lower fillings are preferably comprised of peanut butter and the center filling is comprised of at least jelly. The center filling is pre- vented from radiating outwardly into and through the bread portions from the surrounding peanut butter.

‘But why does this upset you?’ I asked; ‘you’ve seen much worse than this.’ And he had. There are patents on human genes, on auctions, on algorithms. The U.S. Olympic Committee has an expansive right akin to a trademark over the word ‘Olympic’ and will not permit gay activists to hold a ‘Gay Olympic Games.’ The Supreme Court sees no First Amendment problem with this. Margaret Mitchell’s estate famously tried to use copyright to prevent Gone With the Wind from being told from a slave’s point of view. The copyright over the words you are now read- ing will not expire until seventy years after my death; the men die young in my family, but still you will allow me to hope that this might put it close to the year 2100. Congress periodically considers legislative proposals that would allow the ownership of facts. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act gives content providers a whole array of legally protected digital fences to en- close their work. In some cases it effectively removes the privilege of fair use. Each day brings some new Internet horror story about the excesses of intellectual property. Some of them are even true. The list goes on and on. (By the end of this book, I hope to have convinced you that this matters.) With all of this going on, this enclosure movement of the mind, this locking up of symbols and themes and facts and genes and ideas (and eventually people), why get excited about the patenting of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? ‘I just thought that there were limits,’ he said; ‘some things should be sacred.'” 

Librarians, Library 2.0 & Connectivism Using Social Networks…11.30.08

30 11 2008

This 5-minute YouTube video on the 21st century “networked” student would be good to spread to librarians and library students:


Libraries & Elsewhere: The Cost of Bureaucracy…11.30.08

30 11 2008

Although the post below from TechCrunch entitled “The Cost of Prudence” [http://www.techcrunch.com/] was not regarding libraries specifically, it is relevant to any organization. Librarians particularly must deal with bureaucracies regardless of the type of library in which they serve.  

“Bureaucracy kills innovation. We all know that. But why? Partly, it’s because bureaucracy grows out of prudence, a desire not to repeat the mistakes of the past. With the current economic crisis, for example, you can be sure that a lot more checks will be put into place—both in Washington and in corporate boardrooms—to prevent the excesses that got us into this situation from happening again. Governments and corporations alike react to crises by implementing more rules and regulations.

Putting checks in place, after all, is the prudent thing to do. But bureaucracies, and the checks they impose on companies, have their unintended consequences. Paul Graham takes a stab at exploring these costs in a new essay. He writes:

Every check has a cost.

. . . Checks instituted by governments can cripple a country’s whole economy. Up till about 1400, China was richer and more technologically advanced than Europe. One reason Europe pulled ahead was that the Chinese government restricted long trading voyages. So it was left to the Europeans to explore and eventually to dominate the rest of the world, including China.

In more recent times, Sarbanes-Oxley has practically destroyed the US IPO market. That wasn’t the intention of the legislators who wrote it. They just wanted to add a few more checks on public companies. But they forgot to consider the cost. They forgot that companies about to go public are usually rather stretched, and that the weight of a few extra checks that might be easy for General Electric to bear are enough to prevent younger companies from being public at all.

The bureaucracy of large corporations can be just as bad. He gives the examples of checking to make sure suppliers are solvent before allowing them to bid for business or approving large software purchases by committee. On the surface, these are prudent precautions, but they end up imposing costs that also need to be taken into account:

The purpose of the committee is presumably to ensure that the company doesn’t waste money. And yet the result is that the company pays 10 times as much.

Checks on purchases will always be expensive, because the harder it is to sell something to you, the more it has to cost.

Suppliers, whether they are plastic manufacturers or software vendors, will incorporate the cost of complying with bureaucracy into their price. And it is not just outside vendors that make this calculation. So do employees. Throw too many rules at the employees who create your product and the most talented ones may decide it is not worth their while. Graham gives the example of software programmers frustrated by longer release schedules after their startup has been acquired by a larger company with more rules in place. He warns:

And just as the greatest danger of being hard to sell to is not that you overpay but that the best suppliers won’t even sell to you, the greatest danger of applying too many checks to your programmers is not that you’ll make them unproductive, but that good programmers won’t even want to work for you.

This is the cost of prudence. Sometimes it is worth it, sometimes it is not… 

Rules need to be judged not only by what they are designed to accomplish or protect against, but also by the hidden costs they end up imposing on everyone who follows them…”

“Gaming in Libraries”…11.29.08

30 11 2008

This is a great picture that says a lot about “gaming” posted [http://tametheweb.com/2008/11/29/gaming-in-libraries/] by Michael Stephens on Tame the Web:

Redux on Obscure Google “Search Tricks”…11.29.08

29 11 2008

Earlier this year before I began this blog, Lifehacker [http://lifehacker.com] listed what it called the “Top 10 Obscure Google Search Tricks” which are listed here briefly:

10. Get the local time anywhere

9. Track flight status

8. Convert currency, metrics, bytes, and more

7. Compare items with “better than” and find similar items with “reminds me of”

6. Use Google as a free proxy

5. Remove affiliate links from product searches


When you’re sick of seeing duplicate product search results from the likes of eBay, Bizrate, Pricerunner, and Shopping.com, clear ’em out by stacking up the -site:ebay.com -site:bizrate.com -site:shopping.com operator. Alternately, check out Give Me Back My Google (original post), a service that does all that known reseller cleaning up for you when you search for products…

4. Find related terms and documents

Ok, this one’s direct from any straight-up advanced search operator cheat sheet, but it’s still one of the lesser-used tricks in the book. Adding a tilde (~) to a search term will return related terms… 

3. Find music and comic books

Using a combination of advanced search operators that specify music files available in an Apache directory listing, you can turn Google into your personal Napster…

2. ID people, objects, and foreign language words and phrases with Google Image Search

Google Image search results show you instead of tell you about a word. Don’t know what jicama looks like? Not sure if the person named “Priti” who you’re emailing with is a woman or a man? Spanish rusty and you forgot what “corazon” is? Pop your term into Google Image Search (or type image jicama into the regular search box) to see what your term’s about.

1. Make Google recognize faces

google-face-recogniton_sm.pngIf you’re doing an image search for Paris Hilton and don’t want any of the French city, a special URL parameter in Google’s Image search will do the trick. Add &imgtype=face to the end of your image search to just get images of faces, without any inanimate objects…”

The Importance of Infographics or Information Visualization…11.28.08

28 11 2008

There is a great post from the Dosh Dosh blog on “infograhics” or information visualization entitled “Infographics Can Help You Spread Ideas and Attract Attention” [http://www.doshdosh.com/infographics-help-you-spread-ideas-and-attract-attention/] which should be of interest to librarians who are communicators of information that is excerpted here:

“An image is an act of communication. Images play an important role in the presentation of ideas. Worth more than a thousand words, they encapsulate meaning by both simplifying and embodying conceptual theories.They make information more appealing, more persuasive. In the realm of art or activism, images reflect the underlying current of collective feeling by vocalizing both public consensus and private desires…

Images transcend linguistic and cultural barriers faced by text. There is no need for machine or human translation. No need for mediation.

Like videos, images can spread very quickly online with little artificial push. Are they inherently more ‘viral‘ than textual content? It is difficult to say with certainty if it indeed has a higher potential for popularity. But images have undeniable value in spreading ideas. Especially when they are elegantly integrated with the use of text to present information.

Unique, original images can attract an audience. They are not only high quality content for an interested readership but they can be useful promotional tools for anyone interested in gaining more attention. A particular form of image is relevant to this purpose: the infographic.

Visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics are used where complex information needs to be explained quickly and clearly, such as in signs, maps, journalism, technical writing, and education. They are also used extensively as tools by computer scientists, mathematicians, and statisticians to ease the process of developing and communicating conceptual information…

Infographics are a form of concentrated nutrition for data consumers. They are multi-vitamins, fulfilling basic info requirements in a simple hassle-free way. Like a pill, knowledge is condensed into essential components, enough to satiate your basic informational needs. They give you a general overview, one you can convert into talking points and social currency…

Here are some examples from Princeton University’s International Network Archives. These infographics each give you a brief overview on a topic. See this page for full images and more.

The finished infographic is often beautiful to behold. Swirling gradients of color form into tangible shapes, contextually arranged to demonstrate quantifiable meaning. It’s easy to take it all in at one glance. Your eye darts around the numbers and skirts between the illustrations. You interact with it. You are thoroughly absorbed in its display of coherence.

And after looking, you’ll often think of sharing it. Maybe save the image, attach it to an email and fire it to a friend. Maybe you’ll include it in your latest blog post or tweet it. Or you’ll log into your favorite forum, drop the link and see what everyone else thinks.

There are many ways to propagate these images once they are produced. Apart from the usual social media channels, you can provide link codes by hosting the images and providing the html which points back to your site. Or you can package it into PDF formats along with other similar infographics to make a mini-report.

Unlike textual content, these images often do not include much text: you can consider pre-emptively translating them into other major languages so they can be shared more widely among different audiences.

They can also be produced on a regular basis as feature content. As a pictorial representation of information, infographics are often considered to be unique even if the data shared as already been elaborated elsewhere in text articles. Therein lies its appeal to a readership that might be jaded by the repetition of ideas in the content of other media sources/websites.

Good Magazine is an excellent example of a site that recently started creating infographics (known as ‘Good Sheets’) as regular online content. The print editions of these images were also given out free of charge at Starbucks. The combination of online and offline distribution is something that is suited to the nature of one-page documents like infographics.

Next time when you’re planning on sharing specific ideas or data, consider using infographics…”